Hello, witches, daemons and vampires! The long-awaited second season of A Discovery of Witches is finally here. This is my favorite book in Deborah Harkness’ series, so I’ll be attempting to keep up with weekly recaps this season. Besides having Diana and Matthew’s timewalk to Elizabethan England to enjoy this season, at long last we’ll meet daemon playwright Christopher Marlowe (Tom Hughes), James Purefoy as Matthew’s father Philippe, Steven Cree as Gallowglass, Sheila Hancock as Goody Alsop, Adelle Leonce as Phoebe Taylor and Barbara Marten as Queen Elizabeth I. If you haven’t read the book, I’ll just leave you to wonder about the unfamiliar names for now.
On with the show.
We open in the room where we left off, minutes after Diana (Teresa Palmer) and Matthew (Matthew Goode) timewalked out of the old Bishop house in upstate NY on Halloween night. At the end of S1, Gerbert (Trevor Eve), Satu (Malin Buska) and Peter Knox (Owen Teale) were breaking into the house, ready to capture and torture Diana the same way witches did with her parents. Now, they’re examining the remnants of Diana’s magic, trying to figure how she and Matthew escaped.
Though Knox always presents himself as the leader and magical expert, it’s Satu and Gerbert who closely examine evidence Diana and Matthew left behind, then quickly solve the case. Meanwhile, Peter stands off to the side, assigning his own motivations to the missing couple. Satu asks if Peter can feel the power in Diana’s spell, but he doesn’t directly answer her. I don’t think he senses it the way she does.
Last season, Satu also felt that Diana was spellbound when she examined her, while Peter missed it when he examined Diana as a child. He thought she was simply lacking power. I think these two instances show that Satu has much more innate power and better instincts than Peter. What he has is many more years of training to hone his intense ambition and desire.
Satu has the potential to be a great witch. I hate that Peter and Gerbert are corrupting her.
Once they realize that Diana and Matthew have timewalked to the past to hide while searching for Ashmole 782, Gerbert decides that they’ll wait for the fugitives’ inevitable return to the present/future. As a vampire, he’s got all the time in the world to wait.
That was a dig at the witches, who can’t afford to be as patient. If Diana returns to a point too far in the future, by the time she gets back they might lose track of what they’re waiting for and why. Institutional memory is much easier to maintain when a single individual can hold it for thousands of years. Gerbert is prepared to use this to his advantage in order to gain sole possession of the Book of Life, probably shutting out not just the witches and daemons, but the other vampires as well.
London, All Hallows Eve, 1590: Three witches of varying ages sit together near a bonfire during a large celebration. The oldest, Goody Alsop, tells the other two that she’s certain the witch they’ve been waiting for, the one from the prophecy, will arrive tonight.
And, here she is! Matthew and Diana, dressed in what amounts to 1590s underclothes, land in the middle of a street in the middle of the night. Matthew complains that Diana didn’t timewalk with pinpoint accuracy and she somehow responds with her eternal patience. They walk about three doors down the street and he takes her inside.
New opening credits! I loved the use of quotes for season 1, since it was the introduction to this world. The new version is more mysterious and fits this season, which is darker and more complex.
After the credits, they’re in Matthew’s house. He’s confused because no one greets them at the door. He’s barely finished telling Diana to stay behind him so she’ll be safe when Christopher “Kit” Marlowe attacks from behind.
Good to see that Matthew continues to be hopelessly inept when it comes to his caveman tactics with Diana, who is at least as powerful as he is.
Matthew growls at Kit and jumps in front of Diana, just to keep up appearances. The house servants, Francoise (Holly Aird) and an unnamed man, who are also vampires, rush into the room. Kits warns them that Diana is a witch who has Matthew under a spell.
I should warn you now that I absolutely adore Kit. Matthew’s type is gorgeous, talented, high need people who attract trouble, and Kit is a prime example.
Matthew insists that he’s fine! In fact, the witch, Diana, is to be treated with respect, because she’s his wife. Matthew Goode puts a spin on the line that lets everyone know he’s making this up as he goes along.
The faux newlyweds adjourn to their bedroom, where they wonder again how they ended up 60 miles off course. This time, Matthew is more generous and points out that they were actually pretty close to their target, all things considered. He tells Diana not to let anyone know that he fed on her when she saved his life after Juliette’s attack, because that sort of thing apparently just isn’t done between witch/vampire (“wearh”) spouses in the 16th century.
Francoise alerts them that Kit sent for Matthew’s other close 1590 friends, Sir Walter Raleigh and the Earl of Northumberland. Matthew asks her to dig out some of his sister Louisa’s old clothes so they can be altered for Diana. Diana doesn’t care that she’s still in her nightclothes. She’s just realized that her new husband is the mysterious historical figure, Matthew Royden, and she’s about to be in a room with the famous School of Night.
You can practically see the future research papers and books spinning through her head. Eventually she’ll remember she’s meeting living people and needs to get dressed.
Matthew isn’t thrilled about becoming Royden again, but he doesn’t give details as to why. Diana assumes that Royden’s position in the center of Elizabethan life will help them find the Book of Life. Matthew leaves to attempt to smooth thing over with Kit.
But Kit feels an inquisition is in order. Then he goes for the punch to the face to try to snap Matthew out of the spell.
Did anyone else hear Cher yelling “Snap out of it?”
When he can’t get Matthew to act like his normal, witch-hating self, Kit says, “Until you are you again, I shall imagine you a stranger.” Jane Austen couldn’t have written a better line. Delivered with a perfect quaver in his voice and followed by his exit.
Francoise brings a dress to Diana to be fitted. She notices the scar on Diana’s back from Satu’s attack. Diana explains that another witch came after her because of her relationship with Matthew. Francoise promises that Diana won’t have to wear this ugly old dress for long. They’ll get her a new wardrobe soon.
Metamaiden wants y’all to know that in the book, Francoise was very French and a grave injustice has been done to her character by leaving that out.
Now that she’s dressed, Diana meets Matthew’s friends, Lord Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland (Adam Sklar), and Sir Walter Raleigh (Michael Lindall). They make more of an attempt to be polite than Kit, but are nearly as dismissive, other than their curiosity about her strange accent. Diana and Matthew explain that they have two missions in London: find Diana a magic teacher (using the excuse that her parents died when she was young, before they could teach her) and find the Book of Life. Kit is, of course, critical of both goals.
As Matthew’s three friends leave, they suggest he keep Diana tucked inside the house where she won’t arouse suspicion with her strange speech and ways. Matthew agrees. Diana says she’ll go along with it, but only until she can imitate a period accent more accurately. She lets all four men know this is her decision, not theirs.
I really wanted Diana’s hands to glow for a few seconds in this scene or for her to show her power in some way. These boys need to learn a little respect.
Matthew goes out to meet up with an old acquaintance who can help him catch up with his personal history, since his memory of this period is fuzzy. Diana gets into bed, but is soon drawn outside when she senses the presence of another witch. She finds the witch in the street and discovers the other woman looks like Sophie, the pregnant daemon she knew in the 21st century.
Sophie, a daemon who is improbably the child of two witches, gave Diana a chess piece that belonged to Matthew in the 16th century. It had been passed down through Sophie’s family for centuries with instructions to give it to the right person at the right time. The chess piece helped Diana and Matthew timewalk back to 1590.
When rage monster Matthew finds out that Diana left the house, he turns it into an incident of Diana disobeying his orders and keeping secrets from him. While she’s busy realizing that she sensed the other witch from a distance because she’s developing another way of using her magic and that this witch may be the one who becomes her teacher, Matthew is screaming at her that he can’t protect her if she insists on acting like an independent human being.
Seriously, how dare she? I can see why he’d be scared.
She could survive without him if she could take care of herself. But he did just rescue her from Juliette, right? Oh, wait. That went in the other direction. She just saved him from a jealous ex lover and look, here’s another of Matthew’s “friends” who’s jealous of her.
Matthew’s a jerk in this scene. Since Diana is no longer spellbound, she can protect herself physically from anyone and has proven it recently. What would help is for him to calmly remind her that they’re in the age of witch hunters and he’s worried something or someone will tip them off.
She throws his accusations right back at him. He tells her his situation is different and she calls him on it, saying he doesn’t protect her- they protect each other. She tells Matthew that either he finds the new witch or she will.
In the morning, Matthew is feeling more more reasonable and tells Diana he’ll get Walter to investigate the witch from last night. Matthew suggests they take a tour of the city, once Francoise has a new outfit ready for Diana. He admits that the dress she wore the night before is such a fashion disaster that he was ashamed to be seen with her in it.
Apparently Matthew Royden was a bit of a fop in addition to lacking chivalry.
Diana’s new outfit is less boxy than the previous one, though the collar still looks like it might swallow her whole at any time. While women’s fashions from that period look pretty, imagine how uncomfortable they must have been. I suspect the fabric weighs as much as Teresa Palmer does. Meanwhile, the guys are running around in leggings and a fitted jacket.
They happily wander the streets, taking in the sights and smells. Diana marvels at how small the city seems, but how many people it still holds. St Paul’s Cathedral looks much bigger to her against a 16th century backdrop.
Their walk is interrupted when Matthew is spotted by someone he was hoping wouldn’t see him. This acquaintance doesn’t stop to talk, but Matthew is now required to visit their mutual boss, William Cecil, the first Baron Burghley (Adrian Rawlins), chief advisor to the Queen. Matthew needs more details on his recent activities to convince Cecil he’s been living as Matthew Royden.
He seeks out a local spy, William Pole (Simon Meacock), and asks what others have been saying about him, on the pretense of searching for double agents and information leaks. Pole tells him that according to rumor he’s been in Berwick, where the Scottish king is rounding up witches. “I heard they had you keeping him focused on his own affairs instead of… Well, you know. What we’re doing down here.”
From there, Matthew goes to see Cecil. He explains that he came home early because he was able to sew the seeds of chaos in Scotland, so his presence is no longer necessary. Cecil reluctantly accepts his explanation, but tells him not to leave town. His particular talents will be required before long. Cecil makes it sound ominous.
Late that night, with Matthew still not home, Diana roams the house and decides to explore the attic. She discovers that Matthew keeps his 16th century secrets hidden in an unfinished portion tucked behind the main room. He is a practicing Catholic in a time when Catholics in Britain were persecuted. In order to maintain his family’s position, he turns other Catholics in to the authorities. Francoise follows Diana into the secret room and wonders if she can be trusted with this new knowledge. Diana needs some clarification of Matthew’s activities, but she’s not particularly shocked.
She also has some huge new ammunition in her ongoing argument with Matthew about openness and protection. Her dark knight seems to have forgotten to mention that he’s a traitorous spy. He probably also has some serious enemies and needs her protection more than she needs his, especially in this time period.
When Matthew returns home, to find Diana waiting up for him. She says he looks older. He says he thinks he convinced Cecil that nothing is amiss. Diana asks why he works as Cecil’s spy, then answers her own question- for his father, Philippe. Matthew explains that Philippe needed a spy at court and it made sense for it to be him. But Philippe is in France, so they won’t meet him.
He tries to cut the conversation short by saying it’s time for bed. Diana tries to continue, but he tells her that she’s the only thing that makes sense in this century. It’s a reminder that everything else truly is history. He’s not Matthew Royden anymore and these aren’t his current relationships, so there’s no sense in getting caught up in them. I’m not sure he’ll get far in the long run with trying to convince a historian that his past doesn’t matter, but for now, Diana lets it go.
She’s right to worry- many of the people he knew in this time period, such as Philippe, had a profound impact on Matthew and the rest of the family. Many are also still alive in the present day.
Sir Walter, Lord Henry and Kit bring Sophie’s ancestor, Susanna (Aisling Loftus), to meet Diana. Matthew tells her that Diana is under his protection and needs to learn magic. He tosses a bag of coins on the table as payment. Susanna touches Diana’s head and says she’s not a witch. With varying degrees of politeness and threats, they ask her to try again.
This time, Susanna instructs Diana to light a candle and stop a bell from ringing. Diana never performs well for an audience- she’s always best with spontaneity, when doing what she knows needs to be done, rather than on command. This time is no different. Susanna gives her a few seconds and a couple of attempts, then prepares to leave,
Diana asks for another chance. This time, she concentrates and draws power from the environment around her. Unable to properly channel her power where she wants it to go, she only succeeds in sucking the life energy out of a bowl of fresh fruit on the table. While the fruit becomes moldy and shriveled, the candle and bell are unchanged.
Life energy wasn’t ever going to have an effect on the candle and bell, products of fire and air. Diana needed an entirely different force, more like her witch wind. But when she felt threatened, she instinctively went back to the last significant form of magic she used to save her and Matthew besides timewalking.
After Juliette’s attack at the end of S1, when Matthew was mortally wounded, she channeled the life energy of an old tree to save Matthew’s life, which is in the book but wasn’t shown on TV. This time, she drained the nearest plant matter, the fruit, but there was no place for her to send it that would help with the spell Susanna wanted her to perform. Or maybe she just doesn’t know how to transform it into something she could use yet.
The rotted fruit understandably seems more like a curse than positive magic to most of the people in the room.
Susanna’s now even less inclined to help Diana than before. She practically runs from the room. Diana follows her and points out that this is why she needs help so urgently. Susanna says that power like Diana’s is what’s getting them in trouble in Scotland and with spies like “your husband”.
Diana is undaunted by the rejection. She’s more interested in the fact that Susanna already knew that she and Matthew were posing as a married couple. In Elizabethan times, that would mean that Susanna was getting her information via a select few people. Someone in Matthew’s inner circle has spiled their secrets.
As Diana and Matthew stand in the street contemplating their potential betrayal, a young boy attempts to pickpocket them. Matthew grabs the urchin, then they bring him into the kitchen for questioning. The orphan, whose name is Jack, informs them that word on the street is that Diana is a witch, but he’s not afraid of her because witches don’t exist. He says the rumor started in the tavern down the block, The Lamb.
Later, at dinner, they discover that Walter and Henry remain supportive of Diana, but Kit is a frequent customer at The Lamb and feels no remorse over having spread rumors there. When Matthew confronts Kit, he says he’d do it again. He’s unable to trust Diana because the changes he sees in Matthew are too sudden and too great for him to reconcile them with the man he knew a week ago.
Matthew threatens Kit, but Diana convinces him that they need to tell the daemon the truth. He knows Matthew too well to ever be fooled. Plus it will be even worse when they return to the 21st century, she disappears and original 16th century Matthew returns, knowing nothing about her.
Diana explains that she’s from a Cambridge significantly west of the one Kit’s familiar with. Kit immediately understands that she’s a “time spinner” when she tells him they came from the future, saving us from watching them convince him time travel is possible.
Thank you, Deborah Harkness.
Instead, Kit moves right on to what’s matters to him- he doesn’t want to believe that this is a Matthew from 400 years in the future and not “his” Matthew. Diana possessively takes Matthew’s arm and explains that it’s true. This isn’t Kit’s Matthew, it’s Future Matt, who’s also now her Matt.
Kit asks the important logistical question- where is the 1590 version of Matthew then?
Shh, nobody’s really sure, and we don’t want to upset Kit any further.
Actually, there’s been ample science fiction exploration of this concept to hazard a guess. Given the way Matthew keeps attempting to revert to his former 1590 self, and the fact that people in the 21st century warned her that would happen, I’m going with the headcanon that OG 1590 Matt is right there, he’s just in a bit of a fugue state for now, sort of half aware and resting. He’ll pop back out when this is done and write this time off as a strange dream. The others will encourage that thought. It’s as if Future Matthew is the product of a psychotic break that 1590 Matthew will get over when Future Matthew leaves.
That’s right. My headcanon is that Future Matthew is a severe mental illness. 😘
Diana assures Kit that his Matthew will be back after they leave. Matthew gets bored with these niceties and threatens Kit’s life if he tells anyone else. Kit looks like he’s been slapped, but also like he’s heartbroken. He clearly never imagined that the Matthew he’s so close to could turn on him this way. It’s a sign that to Future Matthew, he’s nothing more than a faded memory compared to this new obsession.
Makes you wonder why either of them are in love with Matthew.
That night, Cecil summons Matthew for an assignment. He doesn’t tell Diana he’s leaving before he rows alone across the Thames, then walks through narrow catacombs before he finds the cell he’s looking for.
Diana wakes up and goes looking for her missing lover. She finds Kit keeping watch instead. He doesn’t tell her where Matthew’s gone. Let’s note here that most or all of the household other than Diana know who that note was from and probably where Matthew went, but no one tells her.
She’s familiar enough with the time period to recognize Cecil’s name and position. She would understand the information and its importance and know to keep quiet. Matthew doesn’t show her much respect or trust, so she only gets the bare minimum from his entourage. She’s not being treated as the mistress of the house. She’s being treated as Matthew’s guest who might turn out to be a spy or a dangerous supernatural or just a brief fling.
It seemed like she was much more accepted by the household/entourage in the book. I hope the atmosphere improves in the next episode.
Without Matthew to perform for, Kit is surprisingly civil. He and Diana agree that it can be hard to read Matthew. Kit offers her wine and a seat by the fire with him. Diana hesitates a moment, probably considering whether the wine might be poisoned, but then she joins him.
Kit: “If you are sincere in your affection, then you deserve a warning. Your Matthew is different. Gentler, I think. Being back here, wearing the cloak of his old self, it will change him. His work, his enemies, even his allies. By the end of it, he will not be your Matthew any longer.”
Diana accuses Kit of trying to drive them away so that he can have his own Matthew back.
Kit: “I have wit enough to know that he has never been that. I have seen Matthew at his worst. But I fear you are out of your depth.”
Diana: “With respect, you don’t know me.”
Kit basically admits that he doesn’t, but in a smug way. His warning is real and Diana should heed it. Like all talented beginners, she’s in danger of becoming overconfident because of the new access she has to her power and her recent successes, especially with Juliette and timewalking. But she still can’t control her magic effectively or quickly. If several well trained witches and vampires ganged up on her, she’d be as doomed as her parents were.
But Kit still has something to say about his own knowledge of his close friend Matthew Royden. It seems that Professor Clairmont isn’t all that different from his 16th century counterpart. I think Juliette and the women Matthew craved would agree.
Kit: “When you met him, he singled you out. You were entirely uncommon. Exceptional in a way that he could not define. And although there was a darkness in him, it was somehow as though you had always known him. The way he talked, it was as if all those many lifetimes he had lived before were just marking time… until he met you.”
Diana tries not to look devastated. So does Kit.
Kit: “Stay then, if you must. But do not for one moment assume you know him.”
Obviously Kit’s description fits Matthew and Diana, but we are meant to believe that this time, it’s different. Matthew has told her so. She’s different, so he’s different, blah, blah blah, insert semi abusive gaslighting language here (in fact, see Kit’s speech above). The only way to prove that’s the truth is to actually stick with the relationship and be a decent partner. So far, he’s stuck with her, but he’s only a decent partner sometimes. He’s lied and tried to control her too many times when he didn’t have to.
But Matthew, you have a chance to change. Your TV self doesn’t have to be your book self.
The key line in this conversation is that Kit has seen Matthew at his worst. Kit still loves him, still stays by his side, even though the relationship will never be what he wants. Since Kit is gay and a daemon and 1590 was a very tough time to be gay (it seems like it’s never a good time to be a daemon), I’ll let the self-destructive nature of Kit’s love slide without criticism. People who can’t love freely and openly tend to get self-destructive. I suppose that’s a bit of a warning to watch for the same tendencies in Diana and Matthew, who are akin to an interracial couple before interracial marriage was legal.
When Kit met them, he quickly sensed that Matthew was still hiding huge parts of himself and his past from Diana, afraid she’d leave if she knew the whole truth. The implication is that at least some of Matthew’s worst behavior comes from wanting to manage what she sees in him, so she won’t leave him. But then he takes it too far and the managing behavior brings out the worst in him anyway. From Kit’s perspective, Matthew is clearly lying to himself and Diana by saying they are close enough to marry, when it’s obvious Diana has barely scratched the surface of the real man.
From Diana’s perspective, they’ve been through much more together than Kit realizes and are the subject of multiple prophecies. They share a common goal with the Book of Life. And both her intensity and her strength match Matthew’s in a way I doubt Kit sees. She’s not going to let him be stolen from her easily, but she’s also not lacking in self respect.
Matthew Royden represents Matthew at his worst, the man he’d like to forget he ever was. I suspect that 21st century Matthew did forget just how bad his 16th century actions were. He’s already told us that he hoped to get in and out of the 16th century quickly, without having to recreate certain aspects of his persona.
But Kit is, in a sense, the Satu of this season, the only one who sees the dangerous truth about Matthew and Diana. Kit is a persistent irritant whose actions mean Matthew and Diana can’t get away with anything less than honesty and a whole relationship, rather than this controlling half relationship Matthew is trying to get away with.
Last season, Satu opened restricted files, magically looked inside Diana’s head and finally magically assaulted her. Though it wasn’t her intention to help Diana, Satu acted as a painful catalyst who created the “need” that led to Diana breaking through her own fears and bringing her magic out of hiding. Consequently, Diana is on her way to becoming whole. Now it’s Matthew’s turn to go through the intense but necessary process of confronting his past and leaving it behind.
And he’s definitely confronting his past. Cecil called him to oversee some torture and execution in the dungeon. Matthew signals his henchman to slit the prisoner’s throat as he calmly watches.
Nobody knows the trouble he’s seen. But isn’t that what a loving partner is for?
In this episode, Kit isn’t wrong about Matthew’s tendencies to be secretive, possessive and controlling becoming more pronounced. Matthew acts like a feudal lord with Diana, pushing her to stay at home, maintain absolute obedience, with no questions asked of him, while he expects her to spill every thought that enters her head- even though he’s rarely available to actually listen to her. Meanwhile, he comes and goes as he pleases, telling her as little as possible but expecting her to make intelligent decisions based on the scant information he allows her.
Diana isn’t built to be subservient and, unlike most women, has the power to back it up. I hope we don’t have to wait long for her to remind him (again) that he’s not the boss of her. Women don’t need angry men to protect them, ever. Calm men are perfectly capable of protection when it’s necessary, thanks.
I don’t know how much of Matthew’s secret keeping this episode is about protection and how much is to protect his work as a spy, but Diana has trusted him with everything. If he can’t do the same in return, he can GTFO. Especially if he’s going to disrespect her by calling her his wife without asking her permission first, then treat her like chattel. I know for a fact that other vampire suitors will be along momentarily who’d love to take his place.
As Diana comes into her power, her personal confidence grows as well. She was never scared of Matthew, but now she’s willing to take him on as a complete equal. This season, if he told her to run the way he did at the boathouse when he was holding her jacket, she’d decide for herself what she wanted to do.
She still has Ysabeau’s words from S1 in her ears: the de Clermont women protect themselves. Out of all of the women he’s known in the last 1500 years, she is his mate because she’s so hard to kill. He can relax with her, because she’s not going to let him or anyone else walk all over her emotionally or physically and she has the magic to back that up.
He’s her mate because she needs someone who’s ruthlessly loyal and protective, once he gets over his fear. But loyalty and protectiveness don’t require Matthew’s excessive anger and possessiveness. Those traits were a major flaw in the books. I’ll be interested to see what the TV series does with them, since Deborah Harkness pinned them to a major book series plot point which the TV series has so far avoided mentioning. I would love it if they rewrote the particulars of that plot. Tie the plot point in question to another trait, like loyalty or even depression. Violent anger was the worst possible choice.
We don’t need Philippe’s quote in the opening credits anymore because we are going to actually meet Philippe.
Matthew said to Kit, “I know I had your loyalty.” He didn’t speak of love or friendship, which are generally assumed to include loyalty. How much was the original Matthew exploiting Kit’s feelings without returning them?
Diana finds rosary beads, a Catholic prayer aid, in the hidden attic room. I believe it was actually Ysabeau who formally told her that Matthew was Catholic when she took her to the church he built at Sept-Tours, but of course as a historian Diana would know that an ancient French family would be at least outwardly Catholic. Matthew’s vampire family predates Christianity, but Matthew, himself was raised in the Church before Ysabeau sired him.
In the late 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I was the head of the Church of England, which was formed by her father, King Henry VIII, earlier in the century after he was unable to have one of his marriages annulled by the Pope. Queen Elizabeth sought to supplant Catholicism peacefully, but when that didn’t work, she made Catholicism illegal and punishable by death. So during this period, the Scottish king, James VI, was persecuting witches, and the British queen was persecuting Catholics.
Not to be left out, the French were persecuting Protestants. Throughout Northern Europe, it was a violent time of deep religious and political divides that were never quite settled. Instead, the disputing sides took potshots at each other for decades, with periods of escalating violence against the civilian population that would reach a peak which scared everyone, after which they would all back off for a few years before it all started up again.
Images courtesy of Sky/BBC/AMC.